Misunderstandings on permissible killings

By 27 July 2011Hadith

Nowadays when someone wants to attack Islam, there’s a few theories that will always come up such as Islam oppresses women, Muslims want to kill all the non-believers, and that Islam breeds violence and it’s Prophet Muhammad was a violent person. The following is a commonly misunderstood hadith that people use as ammo to promote their false theories.

The Hadith

Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said:

“The blood of a man who is a Muslim is not lawful (i.e. cannot be lawfully shed), save if he belongs to one of three (classes): a married man who is an adulterer; life for a life (i.e. for murder); one who is a deserter of his religion, abandoning the community.”

On the authority of Ibn Mas’ud – Sahih Bukhari and Muslim

The reaction upon reading this, by someone who has little understanding of Islam, is ‘OMG Muslims are so evil, they’re so harsh’, but actually there is always wisdom in Allah’s rulings, and this hadith needs to be examined closely.

Understanding hadith and Quran carefully

Too often we find people take one hadith, or one ayah of the Quran, quote it and think that they understand Islam. We really should be careful of this, because as we wouldn’t just pick up a legal contract and assume we understand it without consulting our lawyer, likewise we can’t just pick up the Quran, read a translation, and think we understand it without consulting Islamic scholars and giving it some thought.

Part One: The blood of a Muslim and it’s value

The main message of the hadith should not be a read as a guide to who we can kill, but rather that the blood of a Muslim is something to be valued.

Before Islam, there was alot of unjust killing such as burying newborn girls, killing family over money problems, and so on. Islam was sent as a mercy, to put the fear in people of the consequences of killing another person unjustly. At the same time, the hadith acknowledges that there are certain situations where it is allowed.

The killing of non-Muslims

Also it should be noted that the blood of a non-Muslim is also of value. There are several hadith and parts of the Quran that don’t allow killing of non-Muslims unjustly, and to have mercy on them. I will talk about this in another post, but I just wanted to point out that this hadith doesn’t mean all the blood of non-Muslims is lawful.

Part Two: Killing of a married man who is an adulterer

This seems shocking in a time where adultery is so common, and on TV everyday we see movies and TV shows that show adultery as no big deal. The breakdown of society comes when adultery is prevalent because it can lead to so many bad things; abortions, children being abandoned, families breaking up, divorces and so on. This harsh punishment is to instill fear in a person if they ever get the thought to commit adultery.

Proving adultery

It is not that easy in Islam to prove that someone is an adulterer, unless the person confesses it themself. For instance, now we find men accuse their wives of  adultery and think this is enough to stone her. Even if you see a man and woman come out of a room together and they were alone, you cannot accuse them. You need to have four witnesses who saw the actual sexual act happen between the 2 people, or the accuser needs to have seen the act himself.

This is in Surah Nisa:

24:3
The fornicator does not marry except a [female] fornicator or polytheist, and none marries her except a fornicator or a polytheist, and that has been made unlawful to the believers.

24:4
And those who accuse chaste women and then do not produce four witnesses – lash them with eighty lashes and do not accept from them testimony ever after. And those are the defiantly disobedient,

24:5
Except for those who repent thereafter and reform, for indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.

24:6
And those who accuse their wives [of adultery] and have no witnesses except themselves – then the witness of one of them [shall be] four testimonies [swearing] by Allah that indeed, he is of the truthful.

24:7
And the fifth [oath will be] that the curse of Allah be upon him if he should be among the liars.

24:8
But it will prevent punishment from her if she gives four testimonies [swearing] by Allah that indeed, he is of the liars.

24:9
And the fifth [oath will be] that the wrath of Allah be upon her if he was of the truthful.

Also, the punishment of the fornicator (someone who commits the sexual act while they are not married) is less because the married person has a means to get sexual gratiication (their spouse), and yet they choose to go to someone else, whereas the unmarried person doesn’t.

Part Three: Life for a Life

The death penalty is a very debatable topic nowadays, but Islam has a clear verdict on it. The life for a life refers to someone who kills another Muslim for no just reason, such as money issues or just revenge.

From the three rulings, I think most people can see the fairness in this ruling so I will not discuss it in detail.

Sufficient to say, if someone killed your brother or your mother, you would very likely want them to be killed as well, since they took someone’s life unjustly.

Part Four: The one who deserts his religion

This one is interesting because it comes with a second part, ‘who abandons his community’. This shows that this ruling, like the others,  is to do with having harmoney and peace in the community of Muslims.

Apostasy in the Quran

The concept of apostasy in Islam is mentioned in the Quran, but the punishment is not mentioned explicitly in the Quran, and it focuses more on the fact that Allah will deal with them harshly.

Why is it such a big deal?

Apostasy is seen as a big deal because one of the most unforgivable things to Allah is to associate others with him. An aetheist might still turn to Islam later on in their life, and a Christian or a Jew is still trying to follow the religion in their own way and needs to learn about Muhammad and Islam, and could also convert one day. However, the person who is a Muslim and has read the Quran and taken the Shahada, yet still chooses to leave the religion is like someone who has been given the truth and still rejects it, which is why (I think) this is seen as worse.

Allah is most-Merciful and can forgive many things, but this is something that is deeply angering to Allah, and again this is why the punishment is so harsh; so people think twice before abandoning Islam.

‘Abandoning the community’

The second part of the this is ‘abandoning the community’, which could also imply someone who has left Islam and then perhaps speaks out against Islam to other muslims, thereby causing unrest in the community. For instance, alot of people feel Salman Rushdie should be killed because of the things he’s fabricated about Islam. However, he would still be entitled to a fair trial in court, and this hadith doesn’t mean we can go about killing anyone who has left Islam.

Personally, I feel like since the Quran says that Allah will deal with them, we should leave it to Allah to deal with them. Especially in these difficult times when Muslims don’t even know what Islam is about, our focus should be more on ourselves and making ourselves better Muslims, than going around condemning other people. We should help other Muslims in our community, and as for the ones who leave Islam and it really bothers us, we can pray Allah gives them guidance again.

The hadith’s meaning

Overall, the hadith is actually promoting peace and not violence. Unfortunately in today’s world when in most people’s mind ‘Islam = Violence’, most people will read it and say ‘A-ha! I told you Islam is violent!’.

We as Muslims should not be ashamed of rulings like this because they are from Allah, and Allah knows better than we do. In these turbulent times when Islam is at attack from all angles, we have to stay strong in our beliefs and not make excuses for it.

Christian view on punishment

The idea of a harsh punishment in this life so you can have peace int he next life is also in Christian texts.

Jesus says in Matthew 18:8:
Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast [them] from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire.

Insha’Allah we have been promised victory by Allah, and I’m waiting for the day when Muslims will once again be seen as people to be admired and who are on the right path, than as a violent people..

Other resources:

Explanation of this hadith in Imam Nawawi’s book, the 40 hadith;

Wikipedia article on apostasy in Islam (please note that I don’t take Wikipedia as the ultimate resource on matters!)

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